community · research planning

No Gold In Them Thar Hills: academic journal publishing

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A long time ago, there was an house I wanted to live in. I didn’t get to live in that house but, years later, I got to go a party there and, as I wandered from room to room, I had a brief glimpse into what my life would have been like if I had lived there. It would not necessarily have been better, but it definitely would have been different.
A couple weeks ago, I experienced the publishing equivalent of that not-better-but-different experience. I was at the copyediting stage with an article that had been accepted for publication at pretty great international journal. Fast forward through three rounds of peer review (real life social scientists making sense of my humanities-based approach) and I was finally at copyediting and signing the publishing agreement.
Along with the proofs came an email:
Dear Lily Cho
Your article listed above is currently in production with [Big Academic Publisher].
We are delighted that you have chosen to publish your paper in [Great International Journal]. This email is to tell you about the publication options available to you.
Standard publication route
Your article will be published in the journal, and made available online permanently for subscribers and licensed institutions throughout the world, including provision of online access through developing world initiatives. You will also receive a link via email that you can send to 50 colleagues who can download the article free of charge. After the embargo period for this journal, you may deposit the Accepted Manuscript into an institutional or subject repository (Green Open Access).
Gold Open Access publication
You have the option to pay a charge to make the final version of your article freely available online at the point of publication, permanently, for anyone to read (Gold Open Access). This requires payment of an Article Publishing Charge (APC). Please note that this option is strictly your choice, and is not required for publication in the journal. It is not available for research articles of less than two printed pages in length.
If you would like to publish your article via the Gold Open Access route please read the notes below:
• You will retain the rights in your article but will be asked to sign an appropriate article publishing agreement to enable us to publish the article.
• Many institutions and funders partner with [Big Five Academic Publisher] to offer authors a discount on the standard APC or enable them to publish open access at no cost to themselves. Please visit our Author Services website to find out if you are eligible.
Choosing the “Gold Open Access” would cost me somewhere in the neighbourhood of $2500. I went through one of those lightening fast thought processes that I go through when I am expecting to do something pretty routine (not my first time signing a publishing agreement, have allotted exactly two minutes for this routine task in the midst of a busy day, and am momentarily startled by a glitch in the two-minute plan (woah! Gold access? Whuuuut?) and then plough through to keep to my two-minute plan (whuuut? pay thousands of dollars so that my colleagues and students have a chance to read this article without having to click through proxy server? No, thanks).
I am not about to start on a rant about “Gold Open Access,” or other ways of further privatizing the (completely vital) circulation and exchange of academic work. Maybe another time. But this moment of deciding not to pay for the privilege of giving my brilliant work away did make me go back to a different moment.
Back when I co-edited an academic journal, we were approached by more than one of the Big Academic Publishers. This particular publisher, the one that just offered me “Gold Access,” came closer than any of others to taking over the journal. At the time, the offer was enticing for someone like me. They offered to deal with all the non-academic stuff (subscription management, marketing, manuscript submission processes). We would keep all the editorial control but they would take all the money and the content. I say the offer was enticing because there were definitely things we could have done better and it was all so much work. Keep in mind that editing the journal was essentially a volunteer position. There was no money at all for doing it. There was no course release (there might have been a little before but there was no release by the time I signed up). This work wasn’t even listed as a “professional contribution” under my university’s promotion and tenure guidelines. It is considered to be “service” (and under my department’s p & t standards, service does not rate the same way as teaching and professional contribution aka research) and I was very happy to serve. (All you journal editors out there, I see you and I admire you and know that you are working your butt off only to have everyone mad at you because their article is stuck in peer review limbo when it is totally not your fault.) Given these conditions, you can see how dreamy it would be for a Big Academic Publisher to swoop in and save me. I could actually edit and they would take care of the all the essential but nit-picky stuff.
But the editorial board, in all its wisdom, voted against the offer from the Big Academic Publisher. They thought about our credibility as a journal, what it would mean to ask our colleagues to peer review when the journal would then turn around and charge huge fees for access to the finished work, and many other things besides.
For me, turning down the offer to let someone else manage the journal was a lot like not getting to live in that house. I remember once reading a book called Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House. I don’t remember the book now, but I do remember that sentiment. That belief, no matter how silly, that everything wrong would somehow be fixed if I could just live there. 
Going through production for my article was like living through a weird alternate world where I got to experience, albeit as an author and not an editor, what it would have been like if the journal I had co-edited had gone down that other route, had moved into that other house.
Everything was so smooth. The submission process was so elegant. The turnaround on production was so fast. There was an official Academic Editor overseeing the copyediting AND a copyeditor. All this in addition to the editors of the special issue, and the editors of the journal itself. So much editing was being done so seamlessly. I admired the web interface for uploading copyedits, the way they streamlined copyediting queries, the professionalism of everyone working at this Big Academic Publisher.
It was like I was at that party in that house that I didn’t get to live and I wandered around saying quietly to myself things like, Wow, these floors! This window! This light fixture! I didn’t actually want to live there anymore. I had moved on. But it was just a moment where I could see what that other life might have been.
I thought of all this again when I saw yet another news story about a major university having to cut its subscriptions to journals because the publishers have once again raised the prices. It is no secret that academic publishing has become an oligopoly:
Combined, the top five most prolific publishers account for more than 50% of all papers published in 2013. Disciplines in the social sciences have the highest level of concentration (70% of papers from the top five publishers), while the humanities have remained relatively independent (20% from top five publishers). (Larivière, Haustein, and Mongeon).
In the humanities, we are still choosing, more than most disciplines, to support journals that are outside of the circuit of the big publishers: Reed-Elsevier, Wiley-Blackwell, Springer, and Taylor & Francis. By support, I mean we are still choosing to read, publish, and teach articles that are published outside of these circuits. It seems to me that now, more than ever, we have to pay attention to these questions of ownership. Next time you submit an article for publication, or assign an article to teach, look at who owns the journal, and think about whether or not you want your work to be aligned with that publisher. I know I will.
And I know that this is easier said than done. This year, I am serving on my university’s Senate Tenure and Promotion Committee. That means I read a LOT of Tenure and Promotion files belonging to colleagues across every discipline at York. I know that there is a fight about metrics going down. It is not just optics. Publishing with a big journal means that your work will be promoted differently. It will likely register differently in terms of citation and general circulation. How widely your article circulates, and how often you are cited, matters more than ever.
But there are options and it is worth exploring them. In my own field, I am really lucky that there are amazing journals edited by amazing people that are not (yet) part of the oligopoly (hello there, ARIEL, Canadian Literature, ESC, Imaginations,  Postcolonial Text, Small Axe, Studies in Canadian Literature, TOPIA, and many, many more). Not all of these are open access. Most are not. Some are owned or managed by reasonably big publishers too but, as far as I can tell, these publishers have arrangements with the journals that are pretty fair and equitable. These arrangements can be actually be a good thing. For example, ESC’s relationship with Johns Hopkins offers a real benefit to all members of the main scholarly association in my field, ACCUTE.  
There are no fast and easy solutions. As someone who has grappled with the budget of getting a journal out, I can tell you that open access is not the silver bullet for fighting “Gold Open Access.” And I actually don’t really believe that academics should be paid for their academic writing. It is a basic and important part of our job. I also don’t believe in paying for peer review. That is also a basic and important part of my job. It is invisible and thankless labour. But, as with so many things, I do it because  that’s what it means to be part of an intellectual community and I am grateful every single day for the great privilege of being in this community.
But, at the very least, I want to remember that my life would definitely not be perfect if I lived in that other house. And I want to stay alert to the politics and possibilities of the vibrant intellectual life outside and beyond the oligopoly.
#post-ac · administration · change · dissertation · flexible academic · grad school · PhD · possibility · research · research planning · September · writing

Firsts and Lasts

This post marks a big last and a significant first for me. While I’ve been Hook & Eye’s de-facto alt-ac voice for the last few years, I’ve also continued, along with Boyda and Jana, to write about the trials and tribulations of grad school. My last trial–the big one, the defense–is happening tomorrow, and so this is my last post as a graduate student.

It’s been a long road since my “I quit” post back in the fall of 2013, when I took my first full-time academic administrative job. I’m in a different job now, one that has given me the time and mental space I needed to finish my dissertation. After a long period of uncertainty about the value of finishing my PhD, I’m still having a hard time believing that I’ve done it. I’m nervous about tomorrow, despite the many reassurances of friends and committee members. I spend most of my time developing professional skills curriculum, administering research funding, and writing policy, not reading theory or publishing articles. In doing my job, I’ve learned how to explain my research to people far outside my field. I’ve learned to feel confident walking into a room and sharing what I know regardless of who is in it. I’ve learned to identify what my research can tell us about the persistent gendered inequalities of Canadian academic and literary communities and how we might address them. But I’m nervous about being questioned by a room full of people who are full-time academics, who swim in those intellectual currents in a way that I no longer do. I’m also looking forward to spending time talking about a project that I care deeply about with smart people who care about my work, and about me. Now that the day is almost here, that alone seems like a pretty great reason to have committed to finishing my dissertation. The added credibility I’ll have at work is a nice bonus.

My defense tomorrow also means that this fall is a first for me.  It’s the first fall since I was four years old that I’m not going back to school. If I wasn’t already three years down a career path that I anticipate staying on, I might find facing this new beginning scary. But I went through the difficult transition that many PhDs who move into alt-ac and post-ac careers face back when I took my first administrative job. I’m instead looking forward to this first fall, and the year that follows, as a time to experiment with what life as a scholar-administrator could look like now that I can shape my research trajectory however I please.

I’m not really a new breed of researcher, although it sometimes feels like I am. Ever since the academy began producing more PhDs than it could employ–since always, basically–there have been those of us who have moved outside of the professoriate and yet continued to pursue research. The increasing casualization of the professoriate means that there are fewer and fewer people whose job it is to research, and more and more people like me who pursue research but make our money in other ways. We have the desire, the expertise, and the time to remain active researchers while we work in other careers. There’s great freedom in that, for the quest for tenure and grant funding as often blights research creativity and experimentation as it enhances it. I’m going to be using the blog this year to write through the process of crafting a research practice outside of the professoriate. At the same time, I’ll be writing through the process of crafting a life that makes space for multiple identities as administrator, researcher, creative writer, consultant, editor, cook, partner, and more.

Later this month I’ll be starting a new series of posts on transforming my dissertation into a book and live-blogging the process of getting it published. I’ll be continuing the alt-ac 101 series for people who are looking to move into non-professorial jobs or who advise people who are. I’ll also be writing about equity issues in and out of the academy, especially those relating to graduate studies and postdoctoral work. I’m also going to practice what I preach to my students about working to share our research beyond the bounds of the academy by blogging about my dissertation, especially the parts that look at gender bias and rape culture in Canadian literary and academic communities in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s.

If you’ve just found us, welcome! And if you’re an old friend, welcome back. It’s good to be back here with you.

from the archives · research planning · summer

From the Archives: Summertime, and the Research Is…

The tents are going up on the lawn at the University of Toronto, which means that exams and grading are done and convocation season is nearly upon us. It also means that it is the season for making overly ambitious summer research plans and many, many lists. But, as Erin reminds us, there’s another way! From the archives, Erin on combating summertime burnout and anxiety.

***


It is mid-June. My lickety-split spring course–contemporary critical theory in 3.5 weeks–has finished. I’ve submitted my grading and filed all my papers and lectures in hard and digital copy. Congress has also passed. I learned that Fredericton is lovely. I made some new friends and colleagues. I was completely inspired by a panel on lyric scholarship. I had the wonderful good fortune of having generative responses to my own presentation (thanks SB, LM, and MG!) and my dear friend and collaborator TVM and I had the good fortune of chairing a phenomenally strong and interesting panel of papers given on a topic we curated! Bliss.


Now that things have slowed down a wee bit (read: I am unemployed until August 1st when my new contract begins) I’ve been thinking about how best to spend my summer. Last summer I flailed. I spend a huge amount of time fretting about being unemployed, an equally huge amount of time trying to generate an immense amount of research, and ultimately I spent a good deal of the summer feeling paralyzed in front of my computer. I managed to write a bit, but readers it was not a pretty or productive scene. What’s worse, I hardly rested. I felt far too guilty when I was relaxing to ever properly relax.

I’m 365 days older and while I might not be that much wiser I have gathered some strategies that I’d like to share with any of you readers who like me have hugely ambitious summer research plans that don’t also include lazing on the beach/biking riding/drinking wine at a cafe or whatever enables you to let the tightness out of your shoulders.

One of the things I’ve done this year is join an online writing group. This is a direct result ofAimée: she’s written about Academic Ladder, and finally in a mid-May grading fit of despair I joined. Academic Ladder costs money, and for me that’s part of what works. I’ve paid to join a writing group where really what I get is kind peer pressure, encouragement, empathy, and suggestions for writing block, organizing my time etc. So far, so good. I’ve written an article, a conference paper, and a draft of another article all while teaching M-R for three hours a day.

You might find this is a little hokey (actually I kind of do too, but I marvel at how it has worked for me). If you’re not into paying for peer pressure (hmm…) then why not write a list of all the research and writing related things you want to/have to accomplish over the summer. Everything: course prep, book orders, book proposals, manuscript, research trips, all of it. Then consider sharing your list. I shared mine with my pal TVM on Google Docs and he sent me his list. We’ve offered each other strategies for prioritizing and we’re checking in with one another regularly. I’m also a big fan of crossing out rather than deleting a task when it is finished as I feel like I can see my progress.

In addition to making lists and prioritizing my tasks I’m trying to set some fairly firm limitations on how much I work. I must work over the summer, as I suspect many of you must, but I’ve finally clued in to the fact that it is imperative that I relax as well. To that end I’ve decided that work stops at 3pm. I practice yoga in the morning and then come home, clean up, and walk Felix the Dog, so that puts me at my desk around 9:30-10:00. Setting an end-time is proving to be the most challenging for me. I don’t have the family obligations that many of you do, and my partner works out of town during the week, so I have to push myself to unplug as step away from the desk. But let me tell you, once I’ve shut off my computer and called it a day I feel pretty darn good. Ending at a reasonable time gives me the tangible sense that I’ve worked, but allows me the freedom to have a huge chunk of the day to myself. I’ve been reading books for pleasure…!

There’s no silver bullet for balancing life/research life in research, but writing down my goals, sharing them, tracking my progress daily, and quitting early regularly is really working for me. How about you? What are your strategies for balancing work/life/summer?
from the archives · guest post · research planning

From the Archives: Your Five-Year Research Plan

How do you gauge the impact of a blog? And, more ephemeral still, how do you think through the practical as well as affective ways years of collective feminist thinking circulates? 

Several of us weekly writers — Aimée, Boyda, Jana, and Melissa and via Skype — discussed at the Digital Diversity conference this weekend, Hook & Eye circulates well beyond what you can see in the comment boxes. For whatever reasons, and I know there are many and various, we are a blog that circulates via networks of community. What I mean here is that we see more circulation through sharing amongst friends on social media platforms that we do through comments happening on individual posts. Aimée called this a facet of the blog’s function as a “whisper network,” which I just love.

So, in praise of the networking we are trying to facilitate, and in honour of the depth and range of our archives (not to mention our own attempts to follow our own advice) here is the first of our month-long foray into the archives. 

Today’s gem is from almost a year ago to the day: I give you Julie Rak‘s brilliant and generous advice on how to plan your five-year research plan. One of the many things I love about Julie’s advice is that it can, I think, be adapted for alt-ac and precarious working conditions. After all, she does model it on plan imagined by Trotsky who knew rather a lot about precarious times…
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As a reader of Hook and Eye, I am interested in how people newer to the profession than I am think about their work lives. A quick scan of the keywords for different Hook and Eye entries recently showed me something interesting in this regard. There are no keywords for “research planning.” There’s a post about “planners” and quite a few about work-life balance (see “best-laid plans” and the popular “saving my sanity”). There’s a few more about conference papers and writing. But there’s not so much about research life or about planning it for the long term. So, I thought that I’d write something about adapting that time-honoured radical socialist approach to facilitating change, the five year plan as imagined by Trotsky, for your research.

Having a plan is a good plan 

No matter whether you are a graduate student or a full professor in the postsecondary system, you should have a long-term plan for your research career. It’s a central aspect to becoming a professional, and it’s something that we should keep on doing, throughout our careers. Otherwise, we live in a state of anxiety (omiGOD how am I going to get this essay/conference paper/grant/thesis/book/ANYTHING done) and we become reactive with regards to our careers, rather than proactive. We start responding to what others want (or what we imagine they want) and not to what we actually need or can reasonably achieve. I would say that this is particularly true for female academics, who often are asked to take up tasks for the good of a group or community. In short, we are asked to give to others because we are women, and because we are women, it can be hard to say no to the requests or demands of others. Planning is essential as you move through each stage of your research career arc so that you are not just reacting to what others want.

Since many of us came into the academy because we love research, planning for what we love can give us a measure of power and autonomy in our lives. It can help us make informed decisions about our careers. When you’re a student, other people make plans for you, and you respond to them. But when you stop being a student and start being a scholar, you’re in the driver’s seat of your research life and the course you set is your own. This can be intimidating, particularly as you move from one stage of your career to another.

I am a bit of a magpie as a scholar. I get interested in a lot of shiny objects (or ideas) and I want to pursue all of them. But realistically, I can’t. It also turns out that as you become more senior in academic life, you are asked to do more. It’s hard not to say “yes” just because you are asked. This past year, I did say “yes” to too much, and I ran out of steam. So in March 2014, I sat down and did a five year research plan to see where I was at and what I should do.

A five year plan 

Here’s what I did for my recent plan. I listed these areas:

  • Research Goals 
  • Current Projects 
  • Results (Books, Edited Books, Conferences, essays, conference papers, grants, public talks) 
  • Timeline, by year (2014-2019) 



My research goals are all the things I want to do by 2019. They range from the immediate (finish a conference paper), to the extended (write an article per year) to the long-term (run a kickass international research project). Then I listed all my current projects, whether they are large or small. That was an eye-opener. Some projects have nothing to do with my goals. What the heck am I doing them for? No wonder I am overwhelmed! I assigned priorities for my projects in light of what my goals are.

Then I made a Results list and keyed it to my Projects. That was interesting too: I could see that my work tends to cluster at certain times, probably because I say “yes” to too much. I could see too that I am prone to agreeing to do some things which, given my larger goals, maybe I shouldn’t. If I do agree to something, I should make sure that it’s in line with my goals and current projects.

I keyed that projects list to my timeline. I have a lot of things wrapping up in 2014, as it turns out. By 2017, I don’t have a lot there. I could tell from the timeline that I tend to react to opportunities and not plan for them. And I am very optimistic about how long it takes to do a project.

As I moved things around to make my life look less hectic, I thought about the latter years of the plan. What long-term things do I really want to do? What do I need to have in place in order to realize my goals? When I started listing what my desires really were and keying in how to plan for them, I learned a lot about what kind of research I want to do at this stage in my career. And, for the first time in awhile, I didn’t feel overwhelmed. I could see what I should prioritize, and what I should just let go. I realized that I don’t have to do everything all at once. For a type-A person like me, that’s a big relief.

Doing a plan like this shouldn’t be another occasion for guilt. We are all going to be surprised by opportunities in our work lives, so it’s a good idea to go back and review goals, shuffle priorities and revise the plan from time to time. In a few months, I’ll look at my plan again and see where I’m at with it.

Control what you can control 

Whether we have permanent academic jobs or want them, one of the features of academic life is that we have a lot of control over what we decide to do as researchers and how we’re going to do it (this is what we really learn to do in graduate school). But one of the trickiest things about working in the postsecondary system is that aspects of that control are in fact given to others. We can propose a research goal, create a plan and apply to SSHRC, NEH or NSERC for the money, but we don’t have control over whether we get the funding or not. We can submit a paper to the best journal in our field, but we can’t control how long it takes to receive a decision, or what the decision will be.

Having a research plan means that we do get control over what it is possible to control. When we are successful, it feels great. When we’re not, at least planning means that we can choose another path and learn from what happened. Our sense of self-worth does not have to be keyed to how successful we are, but to how we are working to realize our goals. And no matter what, the decisions we make can be in line with what our values are, and what kind of people we want to be, at work and in the other parts of our lives.

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Julie Rak works on all aspects of nonfiction in print and other media and is especially interested in issues of material production, in print and online. She is writing a book about gender in mountaineering narratives. In 2013 she was the Chair of the Autobiography, Biography and Life Writing Division of the MLA. She is a member of the Canadian Mountain Studies Initiative at the University of Alberta. In 2014 she organized the biennial International Association for Biography and Autobiography (IABA) international conference at the Banff Centre. Currently, she is the Associate Chair of Graduate Studies in the Department of English and Film Studies.

ideas for change · mental health · research planning

Office Space: The Academic Fantasy Edition

This post is by Lily Cho! 
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Over here at Hook & Eye, we have never shied away from that which may be considered frivolous. We understand that figuring out your hairhas a lot to do with figuring out your life, which has a lot to do with figuring out your job. We have covered the importance of the go-to (as opposed to go-go) boots. We have discussed the politics of eyewear. Most recently, there was Aimée’s completely spot-on piece about the power of the blazer. Following in this august H&E tradition, today I would like to take a moment to think about the kind of space you might fantasize about working in.

Let me begin with a space of fantasy tucked neatly into Terry Eagleton’s recently much circulated piece on the slow death of the university. Somewhere in the midst of his trenchant discussion of philistine university administrators and the rise of the entrepreneurial university, there was this astonishing (to me) revelation:

There had been a time earlier when college tutors might not even have bothered to arrange set tutorial times for their undergraduates. Instead, the undergraduate would simply drop round to their rooms when the spirit moved him for a glass of sherry and a civilized chat about Jane Austen or the function of the pancreas.

Forge the part about not scheduling tutorials (as the Undergraduate Program Director for my department, this idea makes my tummy do backflips in the most unpleasant ways). What about the part where he refers to the college tutor’s rooms? As in, an office that has more than one room? (I hear from those of you who have been through the Oxbridge that such rooms really do exist and that they really are full of nobly tattered Persian rugs and silver tea services so I realize that this is a fantasy space that actually exists, but just indulge me as I persist with my incredulity.) Okay, and then there’s the part about the glass of sherry. I tried to imagine a world where I would work in the kind of office where anybody who came to my office, least of all one of my undergraduates, would be offered a glass of sherry.

Even if I was allowed to serve alcohol to my students – and I’m pretty sure I’m not – who would provide the sherry? Would it be in a decanter? Who is going to wash the glasses afterwards? I have trouble picturing any Oxford don trundling down the hall to rinse out the sherry glasses in the bathroom. Maybe you can’t have sherry unless you also have a porter?
These questions remind of another representation of a fantasy academic office space that has stayed with me. Donna Tartt’s The Secret Historygives us the delicious idea of the office not only as a fantasy, but also a secret fantasy:

Julian answered the door… by opening it only a crack and looking through it warily, as if there were something wonderful in his office that needed guarding, something he was careful not everyone should see. (32)

And when we are finally permitted entry, it is abundantly clear that some secrets are worth keeping:

It was a beautiful room, not an office at all, and much bigger than it looked from outside – airy and white, with a high ceiling and a breeze fluttering in the starched curtains. In the corner, near a low bookshelf, was a big round table littered with teapots and Greek books, and there were flowers everywhere, roses and carnations and anemones, on his desk, on the table, in the windowsills. The roses were especially fragrant; their smell hung rich and heavy in the air, mingled with the smell of bergamot, and black China tea, and a faint inky scent of camphor. Breathing deep, I felt intoxicated. Everywhere I looked was something beautiful – Oriental rugs, porcelains, tiny paintings like jewels – a dazzle of fractured color that struck me as if I had stepped into one of those little Byzantine churches that are so plain on the outside; inside, the most paradisal painted eggshell of gilt and tesserae. (33)

Did you read that and call to mind your own office? If it looks like Julian Morrow’s, I’m very pleased for you. Maybe, though, if you are a Canadian academic and you are lucky enough to be in a TT job, your campus office might look something like mine (you can’t see but there is a cactus just outside of the frame so I am not entirely without greenery):


Don’t get me wrong. I like my office. I really do. I have windows! And, depending on the time of day and the light, a great view into random student dorm rooms. It is obviously my own fault that this space is not filled with flowers, porcelain, and the scent of bergamot and camphor.

I’ve been thinking about this partly because I realized that, perhaps like many of you, I think of my campus office as the place where I meet with students and do admin stuff. I might even do some marking here although even that I am more likely to do off-campus. I don’t think of it as the place where I will write (although this blog post is being written in this very office right now!).

When I think of a fantasy writing space (and yes, this is also a space of fantasy for me which tells you that I really am no good on the interior design front), it looks a lot more like… 

all photos from http://cabinporn.com

Of course, in my head, all of these spaces are accompanied by a hunky barista who makes perfect cortados on demand. 

Barista aside, I am struck by how my fantasy of a good place to write is one that is very private, and magically isolated. It seems that I think that I need to be somehow cut off from the world in order to write. More precisely, I don’t see any students or colleagues in this picture. Unlike the office in Eagleton’s piece, or Julian Morrows’ fictional office in Tartt’s novel, these are not spaces where one thinks and works and encounters the occasional student or colleague. I don’t know how my idea of the space of teaching and the space of writing became so bifurcated, but it did. 

Is it that way for you? 

What might it mean for my teaching and my research if I brought those spaces more closely together? I ask this question even though I am nowhere near being able to write an essay in my campus office.

Once upon a time, in a university where I may or may not have worked, there may or may not have been a dean in the general field of the liberal arts and humanities (this is, I suspect, less of an issue for folks who run labs) who thought that faculty members should, like everyone else in the working world, identify the two weeks of the year in which they planned to take their allotted vacation, and then be present in their campus offices, with their office doors open, the rest of the year. It was not an idea that was embraced. And, at the time, I may or may not have thought that this idea showed little sympathy for the way in which most of us conduct our research and writing, but also verged on being anti-intellectual. But I can see the point of trying to make our research more visible not only in terms of its intended outcomes (brilliant publications that are widely cited and transform the field of knowledge, no pressure folks) but also in terms of the work we do to get there.

Of course, it is no accident that the college tutor’s room in Eagleton’s essay is a placeholder for an academic way of life that is increasingly rare in the age of austerity. Even though I am no fan of the university’s turn to corporatization and entrepreneurialism, I also do not want to be nostalgic for a university structure (which allowed for offices with multiple rooms and porters that might magically whisk away the sherry glasses and tea service) that was much, much more exclusive. As Aimée has already written, making the office space a writing space has a lot to with not feeling as though it is just where I hide when I am bouncing from obligation to obligation. Maybe it is about getting a bean bag chair. Maybe it’s time I brought some flowers to the office.
Works Cited
Eagleton, Terry. “The Slow Death of the University.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 23 April 2015.

Tartt, Donna. The Secret History. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992

best laid plans · research · research planning · saving my sanity · writing

Your Five Year Research Plan: Guest Post

This is a guest post from frequent Hook and Eye commenter, prolific scholar, and all round awesome person Julie Rak, Professor, Dept. of English and Film Studies, University of Alberta. Thanks so much to Julie for sharing her insight with us, and also (urp) for her tremendous patience as I dilly-dallied getting this posted. This post really resonated with me, and while it’s pitched to the professoriate, there’s something useful in thinking through a graduate degree as a five year plan, too.

And so on to Julie …

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As a reader of Hook and Eye, I am interested in how people newer to the profession than I am think about their work lives. A quick scan of the keywords for different Hook and Eye entries recently showed me something interesting in this regard. There are no keywords for “research planning.” There’s a post about “planners” and quite a few about work-life balance (see “best-laid plans” and the popular “saving my sanity”). There’s a few more about conference papers and writing. But there’s not so much about research life or about planning it for the long term. So, I thought that I’d write something about adapting that time-honoured radical socialist approach to facilitating change, the five year plan as imagined by Trotsky, for your research.

Having a plan is a good plan 

No matter whether you are a graduate student or a full professor in the postsecondary system, you should have a long-term plan for your research career. It’s a central aspect to becoming a professional, and it’s something that we should keep on doing, throughout our careers. Otherwise, we live in a state of anxiety (omiGOD how am I going to get this essay/conference paper/grant/thesis/book/ANYTHING done) and we become reactive with regards to our careers, rather than proactive. We start responding to what others want (or what we imagine they want) and not to what we actually need or can reasonably achieve. I would say that this is particularly true for female academics, who often are asked to take up tasks for the good of a group or community. In short, we are asked to give to others because we are women, and because we are women, it can be hard to say no to the requests or demands of others. Planning is essential as you move through each stage of your research career arc so that you are not just reacting to what others want.

Since many of us came into the academy because we love research, planning for what we love can give us a measure of power and autonomy in our lives. It can help us make informed decisions about our careers. When you’re a student, other people make plans for you, and you respond to them. But when you stop being a student and start being a scholar, you’re in the driver’s seat of your research life and the course you set is your own. This can be intimidating, particularly as you move from one stage of your career to another.

I am a bit of a magpie as a scholar. I get interested in a lot of shiny objects (or ideas) and I want to pursue all of them. But realistically, I can’t. It also turns out that as you become more senior in academic life, you are asked to do more. It’s hard not to say “yes” just because you are asked. This past year, I did say “yes” to too much, and I ran out of steam. So in March 2014, I sat down and did a five year research plan to see where I was at and what I should do.

A five year plan 

Here’s what I did for my recent plan. I listed these areas:

  • Research Goals 
  • Current Projects 
  • Results (Books, Edited Books, Conferences, essays, conference papers, grants, public talks) 
  • Timeline, by year (2014-2019) 

My research goals are all the things I want to do by 2019. They range from the immediate (finish a conference paper), to the extended (write an article per year) to the long-term (run a kickass international research project). Then I listed all my current projects, whether they are large or small. That was an eye-opener. Some projects have nothing to do with my goals. What the heck am I doing them for? No wonder I am overwhelmed! I assigned priorities for my projects in light of what my goals are.

Then I made a Results list and keyed it to my Projects. That was interesting too: I could see that my work tends to cluster at certain times, probably because I say “yes” to too much. I could see too that I am prone to agreeing to do some things which, given my larger goals, maybe I shouldn’t. If I do agree to something, I should make sure that it’s in line with my goals and current projects.

I keyed that projects list to my timeline. I have a lot of things wrapping up in 2014, as it turns out. By 2017, I don’t have a lot there. I could tell from the timeline that I tend to react to opportunities and not plan for them. And I am very optimistic about how long it takes to do a project.

As I moved things around to make my life look less hectic, I thought about the latter years of the plan. What long-term things do I really want to do? What do I need to have in place in order to realize my goals? When I started listing what my desires really were and keying in how to plan for them, I learned a lot about what kind of research I want to do at this stage in my career. And, for the first time in awhile, I didn’t feel overwhelmed. I could see what I should prioritize, and what I should just let go. I realized that I don’t have to do everything all at once. For a type-A person like me, that’s a big relief.

Doing a plan like this shouldn’t be another occasion for guilt. We are all going to be surprised by opportunities in our work lives, so it’s a good idea to go back and review goals, shuffle priorities and revise the plan from time to time. In a few months, I’ll look at my plan again and see where I’m at with it.

Control what you can control 

Whether we have permanent academic jobs or want them, one of the features of academic life is that we have a lot of control over what we decide to do as researchers and how we’re going to do it (this is what we really learn to do in graduate school). But one of the trickiest things about working in the postsecondary system is that aspects of that control are in fact given to others. We can propose a research goal, create a plan and apply to SSHRC, NEH or NSERC for the money, but we don’t have control over whether we get the funding or not. We can submit a paper to the best journal in our field, but we can’t control how long it takes to receive a decision, or what the decision will be.

Having a research plan means that we do get control over what it is possible to control. When we are successful, it feels great. When we’re not, at least planning means that we can choose another path and learn from what happened. Our sense of self-worth does not have to be keyed to how successful we are, but to how we are working to realize our goals. And no matter what, the decisions we make can be in line with what our values are, and what kind of people we want to be, at work and in the other parts of our lives.